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Natura 2000 in the
Continental Region
European Commission
Environment Directorate General
Author: Kerstin Sundseth, Ecosystems LTD, Brussels.
Managing editor: Susanne Wegefelt, European
Commission, Nature and Biodiversity Unit B2, B-1049 Brussels.
Contributors: John Houston, Mats Eriksson, Marco Fritz.
Acknowledgements: Our thanks to the European Topic
Centre on Biological Diversity and the Catholic University
of Leuven, Division SADL for providing the data for the
tables and maps
Graphic design: NatureBureau International
Photo credits: Front cover: main Natural beech forest,
Central Germany, Thomas Stephan, Nationalpark Hainich;
insets top to bottom Unknown, Geert Raeymaekers,
H. Baumgartner, Nationalpark Donauauen, C. Aschenmeier.
Back cover: Mittlere Elbe, Germany, Guido Puhlmann,
Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Mittlere Elbe.
Additional information on Natura 2000 is available from
The Continental Region – the heartland of Europe. ...... p. 3
Natura 2000 species in the Continental Region.............. p. 5
Map of Natura 2000 sites in the Continental Region......p. 6
Natura 2000 habitat types in the Continental Region....p. 8
Management issues in the Continental Region..................p. 10
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© European Communities, 2009
2009 – 12 pp – 21 x 29.7 cm
ISBN 978-92-79-11727-5
DOI 10.2779/83178
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Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
heartland of Europe
Hainich beech forest in Spring, Germany. Photo © Buchenwaldinstitut.eV
The Continental
– the heartland of Europe
The Continental Region covers over a quarter of the
European Union and extends in a broad band from west
to east, starting in central France and continuing to the
eastern edge of Poland in the north and Romania in the
south. Outside the EU it stretches to the Ural mountains,
on the border with Asia. In the south, the region is almost
split in two by the high mountain ranges of the Alpine
zone and the steppic plains of the Pannonian Region. Parts
of the Adriatic and Baltic coastlines are also included.
Altogether 13 EU countries have all or part of their
territory in the Continental Region. This includes major
areas of France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic
and Bulgaria as well as significant parts of Denmark,
Belgium, Austria, Slovenia and Romania. Only Luxembourg
is entirely within the Continental Region. Sweden, on the
other hand, has just 3% of its country in this region.
The climate is generally characterised by strong contrasts
between the cold winters and hot summers. The continental
climate becomes more pronounced on moving from west
to east. In the east, the extreme conditions of hot and cold,
wet and dry, are more commonplace and have a strong
impact on the vegetation.
Moving west, the characteristics become less noticeable
due to the oceanic influences of the Atlantic Region which
bring milder conditions. January temperatures in Warsaw,
for instance, are usually well below freezing whereas in
Alsace they tend to remain above 0°C.
The landscape of the Continental Region is generally flat
in the north and hillier in the south, with the exception
of the extensive floodplains in the Po and Danube basins.
The Great North European Plain covers much of northern
Germany, Denmark, Poland and Russia.
Formed by advancing and retreating glaciers, this vast area
was once covered in lowland deciduous beech forests,
interspersed with extensive floodplains, marshland and
bogs. However, much of this forest has since been cleared
for fuel and timber and replaced by large scale agricultural
production. The transformation is so great that this area is
now often referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Europe.
Below the plains, there exists a moraine belt containing
thousands of lakes, fens and mires around the Pomeranian
Region in East Germany and Poland. This is one of the least
populated areas of the Continental belt, due not only to
the difficult terrain but also to its strategic location after
the World Wars as a border region between East and West.
Further south, the vegetation starts to be heavily influenced
by the Mediterranean and sub-alpine conditions. The lower
elevations of the Alps, Apennines and Carpathians and the
hilly areas of the Vosges, Ardennes and Black Forest, for
instance, harbour many species and habitats that are also
found in the Alpine Region.
Some of Europe’s most important rivers flow through the
Continental Region like the Danube, Loire, Rhine, Po, Elbe,
Oder, Vistula….These rivers have played a major economic
role over the years connecting the north and the south
through internal waterways. As a result, most have been
canalised and regulated, leading to a dramatic loss of
extensive areas of floodplain habitats and species.
Despite these transformations, the Continental Region is
still relatively rich in biodiversity. Being at the crossroads
between so many different biogeographical zones, it
shares many species with other regions.
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
heartland of Europe
After the last ice age, plants and animals recolonised
central Europe via a number of different routes. Some
came back down from the Alps and Carpathians, others
migrated northwards from the Mediterranean or from the
Balkan Peninsula. Yet others moved in from the east. The
resulting diversity of plants, animals and habitat types is
notably high, even if few are truly endemic to the region.
In terms of human use, population levels are generally
high, especially in the northern urban areas of Germany,
Denmark and Poland. Central Europe was for many years
the industrial heartland of Europe, providing much of its
supply of coal, iron ore, copper and steel. Whole areas
are dominated by large industrial zones, such as in the
Ruhrgebiet in western Germany.
Similar areas exist in eastern Germany, Poland and the
Czech Republic. Known as the Black Triangle, this district
has suffered from massive industrial pollution. Open cast
mining, copper extraction, burning of brown coal (lignite)
etc… all produced large quantities of noxious by-products.
As a result, the Black Triangle remains to this day one of
the most polluted areas of Europe.
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
Countries involved
% of EU territory
Belgium, Germany, Denmark, 18.4
Spain, France, Ireland, Portugal, Netherlands, United Kingdom
Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark,
France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland,
Romania, Sweden, Slovenia
Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Italy, Poland,
Romania, Sweden, Slovenia,
8.6 Pannonian
Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia
Steppic Romania
Black Sea Bulgaria, Romania
Cyprus, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal
Spain, Portugal
European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity (European Environment Agency) October 2008
Because of the large number of rivers, marshes, floodplain
meadows and other wetland habitats in the Continental
Region, freshwater species are also well represented. The
otter Lutra lutra, for instance, is still relatively widespread
although under increasing pressure from pollution and
habitat loss.
The number of fish species is also particularly notable.
Over two thirds of those listed in the Habitats Directive
occur here, including some rare endemics such as the
zingel Zingel zingel or the Danube salmon Hucho hucho.
The Continental Region also harbours many rare
amphibians. Eight species listed in the Habitats Directive
occur in the Italian Po basin alone. They include a rare subspecies of the European spadefoot toad Pelobates fuscus
insubricus, two species of cave salamander Hydromantes
ambrosii and H strinatii as well as the elusive olm Proteus
The latter is in fact more characteristic of the cave systems
of Slovenia where it is known locally as the ‘human fish’
because of its pallid skin colour. Reaching 25 cm in length,
this rare amphibian has baffled scientists for years by
its ability to reach sexual maturity without undergoing
Photo © A. E. Zitek
As in other regions of Europe, much of the continental
landscape has been heavily influenced by agriculture.
Although intensive large-scale farming is now prevalent,
The fire-bellied toad Bombina bombina
Aptly named for its brilliantly coloured underbelly,
which it uses to warn off predators, the fire-bellied toad
leads an otherwise unassuming life in and amongst its
sheltered sun-exposed ponds. Its favourite habitats are
the extensively grazed meadows on calcium-rich soils in
central and eastern Europe.
Natura 2000 species
The Continental Region harbours 184 animals and 102
rare plants listed in the Habitats Directive as well as over
a third of the birds listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive.
Many are associated with the characteristic beech, oak and
hornbeam forests that are typical for the region. Typical
bird species include the black woodpecker Dryocopus
martius, red kite Milvus milvus, hazel grouse Bonasa
bonasia and collared flycatcher Ficedula albicollis, amongst
others. Beneath the canopy, a myriad insect and plant
species have found a niche for themselves amidst the wide
range of forest microhabitats.
Photo © Lubomir Hlasek
Natura 2000
species in the
Continental Region
The adults hibernate on land, but spend most of the
spring and summer months in their breeding tarns. At
these times the air is filled with the mournful sounds
of its mating calls. Unfortunately, many such habitats
are now also intensively used for agriculture and as a
consequence most suitable ponds have been ploughed
up or heavily polluted. Populations of the fire bellied
toad have crashed as a result. Efforts are now underway
to restore the ponds and their surrounds in various
countries such as Denmark and Germany. Captive bred
specimens are also being re-introduced in the hope of
re-enforcing the existing populations.
important pockets of semi-natural grasslands and
meadows are still being managed extensively, especially in
the eastern and southern parts of the region. They attract
species like the corncrake Crex crex or white stork Ciconia
ciconia which depend on extensive farming systems for
their survival. It is estimated that there are some 40,000
storks in Poland alone, with one quarter of the world
population breeding in the grasslands between the Oder
and Bug rivers.
The grasslands and wet meadows are also particularly
rich in plant species and include such rare plants as the
Bohemian bellflower Campanula bohemica or the gentian
Gentianella germanica.
The Danube salmon Hucho hucho
This central European salmonid lives exclusively in freshwater. It can reach two metres
in length and weigh up to 100 kg. Once widespread in Austria and southern Germany,
its range shrank dramatically following the construction of a series of large hydroelectric
power plants, which effectively blocked access to many of its natural spawning streams.
Nowadays, it is restricted to four separate tributaries of the Austrian Danube. One of the last
strongholds is the Pielach-Melk river system in Lower Austria. Here the spawning grounds are
still relatively intact, but their access is restricted by no less than 13 obstacles, such as weirs
and small hydroelectric mills, located over a distance of 45 km. Since 1999, work has been
underway to render each of these obstructions passable for the salmon and, ultimately, to
create a river continuum over 78 km, which would help to reconnect isolated populations.
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
Photo ©
D. Depree
Photo © A. Balthazard
The list of Natura 2000 sites in the Continental Region
was first adopted in December 2004 and later updated
in November 2007 and again in December 2008.
Altogether, within the Continental Region there are
7,475 Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) under the
Habitats Directive and a further 1,478 Special Protection
Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. There is often
considerable overlap between some SCIs and SPAs which
means that the figures are not cumulative. Nevertheless,
it is estimated that together they cover more than 10% of
the total land area in this region.
Photo ©
G. Raeymeakers
Number of habitat types in Annex I and species or
sub-species in Annex II of the Habitats Directive.
Habitat types
Black Sea
Photo © F. Vassen
Natura 2000 sites
Map of Natura
2000 sites in the
Continental Region
Map based on site coordinates
supplied by the European
Commission through the
University of Leuven, Division
SADL, October 2008
Source: European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity (European Environment Agency)
– the figures are not cumulative since many habitats and species occur in two or more biogeographical regions
– Birds from Annex I of the Birds Directive are not listed as they are not categorized according to biogeographical region
Total area
Total area
Source: European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity (European Environment Agency) October 2008
– SPAs and SCIs are not cumulative as there is considerable overlap between them
– Some sites are on the border between two regions, the database does not allow for the possibility to split sites between regions, therefore some sites may be counted twice
– Percentage of marine areas not available
– SPAs are not selected according to biogeographical region
– SPA area for the Steppic Region are calculated according to available GIS data
% of total
Black Sea
area covered
% of total
area covered
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
Photo © Buchenwalkinstitut.eV.
Photos © K. Sundseth
Photo ©
Mols Bierge
Photo ©
Photo © Biebzra National Park
Photo ©
D. Kjaer
Photo ©
G. Klosowscy
Our Valley
Photo © Sumava National Park
Photo ©
J. Hlasek
Photo ©
A. Sylwester
Photo ©
R. Czech
Photo © elf_14/
Po Delta
Photo © Mladen Vasilev
Photo © I. Modic
Photo ©
Photo ©
Parco Delta del Po
Photo © BBL Hartberg
Photo ©
A. Hodalič
Lafnitz river
Srebarna lake
Photo ©
Chavdar Nikolov
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
Natura 2000 habitat types
Wet meadow with irises, Slovakia. Photo © M. Lohmann, inset White stork. Photo © J. Hlasek
Natura 2000
habitat types in the
Continental Region
Before agriculture, much of the Continental Region was
dominated by deciduous forests. The climatic conditions
and soils are particularly well suited to broadleaved
forests, such as beech Fagus sylvaticus which are at the
centre of their distribution here. Further east, beech is
gradually replaced by oak and hornbeam whereas in the
north, on high ground and in poorer soils, natural stands
of conifers take over with increasing frequency, especially
on the cooler north facing slopes.
Photo ©
These exceptionally rich habitats play an important
role for species dispersal as they provide a natural
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
The Po Delta
ecological corridor for wildlife to move through what is
fast becoming an increasingly impermeable landscape.
Unfortunately, most of these riverine habitats have
since disappeared or become disconnected and much
reduced in size.
Important tracks of bog woodland, alluvial forests and
riparian mixed forests were also once commonplace
along most river valleys and in the floodplains. These
exceptionally rich habitats play an important role
as natural corridors through the broader landscape.
Most have however disappeared and are now
increasingly scarce.
The transformation from forest to arable fields, meadows
and pastures was mostly completed by early settlers
hundreds of years ago. The resulting semi-natural habitats
eventually evolved into valuable reservoirs for native
species but these too are under threat from a decline in
traditional management and agricultural intensification.
Today, grasslands cover around a sixth of the Continental
Region, ranging from sub-alpine meadows and calcareous
Situated along the Adriatic coast in the Continental Region, the low-lying Po Delta is
the largest wetland in Italy and one of the most productive in the Mediterranean. It
covers some 1,300 km², over a third of which is protected as an SPA under the Birds
Directive. Over 280 species of birds can be seen here including the rare squacco
heron Ardeola ralloides, pygmy cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmaeus and ferruginous
duck Aythya nyroca. The high species diversity is due to the sheer complexity of
the terrestrial, fluvial and coastal habitats present. Rivers, marshlands, sand dunes,
coastal lagoons, freshwater wetlands, ancient pinewoods and mixed oak woods
all blend together in a rich patchwork of intertwining habitats. Species from the
Continental Region live side by side with those from the Mediterranean Region. The
long history of human use has contributed further to this complexity. But the sheer
level of activity and industrial scale development in recent times has taken its toll
on the Po Delta’s natural riches. Efforts are now underway to develop a more unified
approach to the long term management of the entire delta across all sectors.
Alluvial grasslands were once also extensive, covering
large areas along river valleys. Although much reduced
in size they still provide a refuge for many rare wetland
species such as the Siberian iris Iris sibirica, the corncrake
Crex crex and aquatic warbler Acrocephalus paludicola.
Other typical wetland habitats include lakes and bogs as
well as extensive freshwater marshes and fens. The Biebrza
river valley, in north-eastern Poland, for instance, harbours
one of the largest and least disturbed marshland
complexes in Central Europe. This is thanks to the fact that
the river itself retains a relatively intact hydrology which
allows it to spread its watery load far and wide across the
flat plain.
Elsewhere, extensive cave systems permeate through the
karst landscape. These represent an important
stronghold for many rare species of bats as well as other
specialised fauna and flora. The Sumava Caves of the
Czech Republic and the Postojna Caves in Slovenia are
some of the largest cave systems in Central Europe, each
providing an important refuge for some of Europe’s rarest
bat species.
Inland dunes are another unusual but characteristic
habitat of the Continental Region. In the last Ice Age,
sands were deposited across much of central Europe or
brought down as sediment by large rivers. As with coastal
sand formations, great efforts were made to stabilise
these wastelands, through conifer plantations and soil
enhancement. As a result, the remaining dunes and their
specialised fauna and flora are now much reduced and
heavily fragmented.
Photo: © F Vassen
A wide range of coastal habitats are also found along
the northern and southern coastlines of the Continental
Region. Open sea habitats, beaches and shingle features,
salt meadows, lagoons, dunes and dune heaths and
coastal woodlands are all present and support a wealth
of wildlife. Two of the largest mobile dune systems in
Europe, at Raabjerg Mile in Jutland and Slowinski Strait in
Poland are found here.
Natura 2000 habitat types
Photo: © Andrzej Keczyński
grasslands on higher elevations to lowland hay meadows
and flooded alluvial grasslands.
Bialowieza Forest
Covering some 120,000 ha, the Bialowieza Forest
on the border between Poland and Belarus is one
of the largest surviving area of virgin mixed forest
in Europe. Once a private hunting reserve for Polish
kings and Russian tsars, it has been protected as
a strict nature reserve since the 1920s. As a result,
few forestry activities have taken place here which
has allowed the formation of an exceptionally rich
species diversity. Up to 632 vascular plant species
have been recorded so far, representing almost a
third of all plants found in Poland. Over 230 bird
species have also been recorded including many
species of eagle, owls and woodpeckers.
Important populations of wolf, lynx and otter are
also present but, perhaps, the forest is best known
for its European bison population. This species was
exterminated in 1919 but successfully reintroduced
ten years later under strict supervision. The
population has since grown to over 700 but
because of the small number of source animals it
remains highly vulnerable to genetic inbreeding.
The forest, and its centuries-old trees, is also under
threat from encroaching forestry activities.
Calaminarian grasslands
Calaminarian grasslands occur on soils containing elevated levels of heavy
metals, such as lead, zinc, chromium or copper. The greatest extent of the
habitat occurs on artificial sites associated with past mining activities (the
habitat is in fact named after one of the oldest zinc mines in Belgium, the
‘calamine’). Near-natural examples on natural rock outcrops and river gravels
are more localised.
Although heavy metals are usually toxic for plants, some species such as the
zinc violet Viola calaminarina, the spring sandwort Minuartia verna or
Young’s helleborine Epipactus youngiana, have become especially well adapted
to the presence of these noxious substances. The low nutrients and heavy
metals help to keep the vegetation open and retard succession which allows
these more specialised plants to thrive without competition from the usually
vigorous colonisers.
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
management issues
Selective forestry in Hainich National Park using horses. © Nationalpark Hainich
Management issues
in the Continental
Photo © J Hlasek
Much of the Continental landscape has been significantly
transformed through centuries of changing land uses.
Large areas of beech forest were cleared to provide wood
for industrial furnaces and to make way for intensive
large-scale farming. Wetlands and floodplain meadows
were drained to further increase agricultural holdings.
Rivers were dammed, canalised and regulated to prevent
floods and to provide inland navigation routes.
Black woodpecker. Photo © J. Hlasek
By the 19th Century, heavy industries were omnipresent
in key areas like the Ruhrgebiet or in the Black Triangle
between Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. Local
human populations increased substantially as people
moved into these areas looking for jobs. The impact on
the environment was substantial. Large tracts of land were
urbanised and transformed into industrial zones. Pollution
began to cause major problems.
Only the habitats on poorer soils, such as bogs, marshes
and heaths escaped major transformation. These were
managed extensively, if at all. Such is the case for the
areas around Pomorania, Central Bulgaria or on the Massif
Central in France. All still harbour large areas of valuable
bogs, marshes, forests and grasslands.
Many areas located in the border regions between the
old East and West frontiers also remained relatively
Managing Annex IV species – the case of the hamster
The European hamster Cricetus cricetus was once widespread in farmlands across the
Continental Region. It could be found in almost every type of crop from wheat, rye, oats,
barley and corn to sugar beet where it would dig complicated burrows into the loamy soil
and collect seeds and other food at night. For years it was persecuted as a farmland pest
and trapped for the fur trade but then the species began to decline following the move
towards intensive mechanised farming. Populations dropped so dramatically that it is now
strictly protected under Annex IV of the Habitats Directive in most countries.
In order for the increasingly fragmented populations of hamster to survive over the long
term however, active management measures are also required. Several countries have
recently introduced conservation plans for the hamster in which they promote hamster
friendly management contracts with local farmers. Farmers can receive supplementary
payments under the EU’s agri-environmental schemes in some countries if they agree
to carry out a number of simple measures that are beneficial to hamsters. These include
measures such as growing strips of alfalfa along field margins, limiting the use of
fertilisers, rodenticides or herbicides, or ploughing only shallow farrows no more than
20 cm deep and harvesting after mid-October.
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
The Danube flows over thousands of kilometres from its source high up in the Black
Forest to its mouth in the vast delta plains along the Black Sea. It crosses numerous
countries along the way. For centuries, the river has been of major ecological, cultural
and economic value to all of these countries.
Recognising the immense value of the river, efforts have been underway since
1985 to try to stop or even reverse some of the worst excesses of pollution and
development. An International Convention on the protection and management of
the Danube was signed by all riverine countries in 1991 and a Strategic Action Plan
adopted by Environment Ministers in 1994.
An international Commission for the Protection of the Danube River was set up at the
same time to take this action plan forward. It has since also been nominated as the
authority to coordinate the elaboration of the Danube River Basin Management Plan
under the Water Framework Directive.
unchanged for decades after World War II. It is as if time
has stood still. With the recent collapse of the communist
regimes and the re-opening of national borders however
land uses are changing rapidly here too, either through
land abandonment or intensification.
The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the
introduction of area based payments decoupled from
production may help to slow this process down. The fact
that Natura 2000 is now specifically mentioned in the EU’s
Rural Development Regulation is an important political
step forward in achieving a better integration of farming
and conservation.
Whilst the landscape is still well forested compared to the
Atlantic Region (about 27% of the land area) only a small
proportion of the woodland is semi-natural broadleaf.
It is estimated that over 75% of the original forest has
been lost and what is left has been severely altered by
commercial management practices.
Scots pine Pinus sylvestis which under normal conditions
is confined to poorer soils is now the dominant species
within commercial plantations. In Germany alone it
accounts for 72% of all forests.
Air borne pollution from industrial activities has also taken
its toll on the region’s biodiversity and on the forests in
particular. High emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen
oxide or ammonia are, for instance, the principal cause of
acid rain.
Not only does this lead to extensive damage to the forest
vegetation but it also makes stands more vulnerable to
natural destructive forces such as high winds and storms,
or to introduced pests and diseases. It is estimated that
a significant proportion of the trees in Poland and Czech
Republic are partly defoliated as a result.
management issues
Photo © Nationalpark Donau-Auen
International co-operation for the Danube River basin
The region’s rivers, floodplains and other wetlands have
also suffered badly from the high levels of industrial and
agricultural pollution. Many of the watercourses have
become sterile as a result.
Most rivers also underwent major physical changes over
the last 200 years. They have been canalised, straightened,
deepened, embanked and dammed. Some, like the Rhine
were transformed into major navigation routes. Others
were extensively modified for hydroelectric power. The
surrounding floodplains were also drained and transformed
to make way for agriculture or to prevent flooding.
Yet despite these dramatic changes, fragments of the
original natural and semi-natural habitats do still
exist along most major rivers, albeit in a
severely reduced form.
Recognising the
economic as well
as the ecological
value of these
rivers, efforts are
underway to adopt
softer management
solutions and where
possible restore part
of the rivers’ natural
dynamics. Thanks to
the Water Framework
Directive an integrated
management approach
is now required for
the entire length of
major rivers and their
catchment areas,
irrespective of political
or sectoral boundaries.
Photo ©
E Barbelette, LPO
Natura 2000 in the Continental Region
Natura 2000 in the
European Commission
European Commission
Natura 2000 in the
Steppic Region
Alpine Region
Natura 2000 in the
Continental Region
Macaronesian Region
Mediterranean Region
European Commission
Natura 2000 in the
Black Sea Region
Natura 2000 in the
Alpine Region
Natura 2000 in the
Natura 2000 in the
Black Sea Region
Steppic Region
Natura 2000 in the
Pannonian Region
Natura 2000 in the
Boreal Region
Natura 2000 in the
Natura 2000 in the
Pannonian Region
Natura 2000 in the
Continental Region
Boreal Region
Natura 2000 in the
Atlantic Region
Natura 2000 in the
Natura 2000 in the
Natura 2000 in the
Atlantic Region
In this series:
European Commission
Natura 2000 in the
Mediterranean Region
Natura 2000 in the
Macaronesian Region
The European Union has nine biogeographical regions, each with its own characteristic blend of vegetation,
climate and geology. Sites of Community Importance are selected according to each region on the basis of
national lists submitted by each Member State within that region. Working at this level makes it easier to
conserve species and habitat types under similar natural conditions across a suite of countries, irrespective of
political and administrative boundaries. Together with the Special Protection Areas designated under the Birds
Directive, the Sites of Community Importance selected for each biogeographical region make up the ecological
Natura 2000 network which spans all 27 countries of the EU.
Photo © Guido Puhlmann., Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Mittlere Elbe